The plan had been for Fiona to drop me off, where she picked me up, at Maidstone East, but when I started looking into train times, it immediately became apparent that rail replacement services were being operated, that there didn’t seem much hope of my reaching the capital before 1am, and that I would be arriving at Victoria Station at said time, which isn’t exactly a breeze to get to Highgate from at shit o’clock in the morning. Yawn.
Anyway, one of the reasons that the rail replacement service was destined to take so long was that the busses were taking passengers in the opposite direction from London so that they could pick up Eurostar connections from Ashfield International.
Fiona and I therefore decided that the best option was to drop me off at Ashfield, in the process circumventing the need for a rail replacement bus and an extra two hours on my journey. Our Chunnel train got into Folkestone at 9.50pm, the last train to Kings Cross from Ashfield left at 10.43pm, the estimated journey time was 20 minutes. What could possibly go wrong?
I’ll tell you what could go wrong. The UK’s astoundingly shitty roads, and our government’s complete inability to outsource repair work to private companies who actually give a stuff about ordinary people.
So, about two miles shy of the M20 turn off for Ashfield, we got stuck in completely stationary traffic, and watched helplessly as the sat nav’s estimated time of arrival got later and later, and eventually went spinning off into the world of “ain’t never gonna happen.”
We investigated half a dozen plan Bs. Fiona could drive me to Croydon, perhaps? That journey would take 1 hour and 48 minutes, which would mean taking the last train from Croydon to Blackfriars, where I would find myself at 1am without any other option than to walk half an hour to a 43 night bus, or an Uber back to Highgate.
All the other potential options led us into a similar cul-de-sac of frustration. Our only option, genuinely, was for me to go back home to Hove with Fiona, and take an early train into London for rehearsals.
With all other options taken away, we hit that sort of calm space where you just have to accept the situation, so we stopped at a Motorway Service Station on the M25 for some late night food. Sadly the only food available was at MacDonalds.
We sat, eating our cardboard libations to multinationalism, trying to comprehend the ineptitude of the British transport network, wondering how the Brexiteers could blame this shit on Europe, and whether making Britain “great” again would include ploughing any extra money into transport, and furthermore, whether any of said extra money would be spent on anything other than lining the pockets of hopeless fat cats who run the ludicrous companies who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.
MacDonald’s decided to add an extra layer of hideousness to the proceedings. I don’t know whether anyone reading this has ever sat in a MacDonald’s late at night, when the bustle of life subsides into relative silence, but behind the counters in a MacDonald’s all you can hear is beeping. One assumes the different beeps inform staff that various bits of inedible shite have finished “cooking.” Or maybe they’re designed simply to keep the members of staff awake, but the beeping never ends. High pitched beeps. Low pitched beeps. Beeps which change in pitch. Long beeps. Short beeps. Loud beeps. Quiet beeps. Beeps in rhythmical patterns. Fast. Slow. Fast again. It was, without a shadow of doubt, the most stressful attempt at unwinding I have ever embarked on. All because of the beeps...
We reached Hove at about 12.30, I assume. The moment my head hit the pillow, I fell asleep. Deep sleep.
And actually, this morning, my journey into London was good. I had a seat. I did some work. I made my connections. Perhaps there is a travel God after all!
I did, however, have to jump the barriers at Queens Road Peckham, on account of my ticket not working and no members of staff being around to talk to. I felt a rush of adrenaline. I rather liked it. I might become the sort of old man who shop lifts for shits and giggles!